Your Kerry just had surgery that required sutures. He's ready to go home, when the veterinarian hands you an enormous contraption, and explains that you need to place it around your dog's neck, to keep him from licking the incision.
But, your dog acts as if he's miserable wearing this "cone collar." He can't get up stairs because the collar bangs into the risers. As he unhappily gives you his best "martyr" look, you wonder (1) why it's needed, and (2) whether there are any alternatives.
He really does need something to keep him from bothering the incision. If you've ever had even minor surgery yourself, you know that a few days later-as the wound begins to heal-it itches like crazy. Your dog will react by licking-or even chewing-the incision, which could slow the healing process, cause further irritation, or worse, reopen the wound.
Veterinarians usually rely on a cone collar (also called an Elizabethan collar) to prevent a dog from bothering incisions. But when stitches are on the neck or high on the shoulder, the dog can't wear a cone collar-or even a regular collar-for obvious reasons. And most dogs are just plain unhappy wearing a cone collar. Kerry owners, however, have devised some creative alternatives.
To keep your dog from gnawing on an incision on his hindquarters, Marilyn Brotherton suggests using a pair of boy's pants, with a fly. Put them on your dog backwards, so that the tail goes through the fly. Size 6X is good for a dog weighing 30 to 35 pounds, says Marilyn. For a heavier dog, try a size 8.
To protect an incision on the neck or shoulder, Virginia Barishek has used old T-shirts. Putting the dog's head through the collar of the shirt, and the unaffected front leg through a sleeve, will help anchor the shirt. Arrange the excess material around the stitched area. The size you use depends on the size of your dog, but any excess length can be gathered up and knotted.
Bear in mind that a dog with a healing incision on or near the neck should not wear a regular collar. This makes a good opportunity to try a head collar (such as the Halti or the Gentle Leader) for on-leash exercise. Be sure to read the directions so you understand how to use a head collar correctly. If possible, try to accustom your Kerry to the head collar before surgery; they take some getting used to, for both you and your dog.
Using a repellant such as Bitter Apple may not help, because the compulsion to lick the wound is so strong. Marilyn Brotherton recommends a soothing approach, with warm salt-water soaks using a wrung-out cloth, 2 or 3 times a day. To ease the itching, Marilyn suggests following the soaks by squeezing the oil from a vitamin E capsule onto the sutures. This will keep the skin pliable and promote healing.
Denise Aitchison notes that it can help to admonish your dog verbally with "Uh-uh, no lick." This technique is effective if you can spend most of the day with your dog, and you intercept him as he is about to investigate the stitches. Redirect his attention away from them, and reward and praise him for leaving the stitches alone. Many Kerries quickly learn that licking means the cone collar goes on, whereas no licking equals no collar.
A few days before the stitches are due for removal, you will notice that your dog is bothering the area much less, if at all. The itchy feeling has faded, because the skin is almost healed. By the time the stitches are removed, your Kerry will barely notice them.